North Island - going South01/10/2011
We arrived into Auckland airport to be met by my cousin David and his daughter Isla. What a treat that was to actually be met by welcoming faces and whisked straight to their house where we were kindly invited to stay. We stayed for 3 nights in total spending our days sorting out all the things we needed for our New Zealand tour (tent, cooking things, a car) and exploring the biggest city in New Zealand.
The city itself seemed a world away from anywhere we had seen in Asia - much more modern and developed and yet much more spread out and spacious at the same time. The people have immediately struck us as being very friendly and helpful, and after 2 weeks on the North Island that feeling remains.
After a few days of comfortable living with David, Yus, Isla and Kyle it was time to brave the elements and set off on our tour of the country. First stop was Raglan, the home of surfing in New Zealand. After a chat with the information centre we found ourselves a lovely quiet campsite. We were the only people there in a huge field with little more then (VERY) cold showers, toilets and drinking water but it was ours for the night and we were more then happy as we tucked into our dinner of the most amazing greenshell mussels with cream and white wine.
While in Raglan we had to try the surfing so the next day we made arrangements for some lessons and then set off for a practice run on boogie boards. It was so much fun being thrown around on the waves and we both had quite a few great "rides" putting massive grins on our faces. Next stop though was a hot shower and sauna as it was biting cold water even in our wet suits. For the surf lesson itself we were each in 2 wetsuits and hardly able to move but none the less Steve, our instructor, managed to get us both to stand up. At the end of the three hour lesson we were both exhausted and our arms and bodies were no longer doing as we asked so we retreated back to our tent happy to have stood up and equally happy to fall asleep in our little tent world.
Next stop was Rotorua which is an amazingly active "geothermal hot-spot". The smell of sulphur in the air confirmed our arrival into this strange little tourist town which happened to be hosting the Ireland vs Russia rugby match the next day. In Rotarua we found ourselves another beautiful campsite (this time with no shower at all) on the side of Lake Okareka and visited the thermal and mud pools in the town's public park. It was much more impressive then we were expecting and the heat was incredible, as was the smell. We also found a little pool set up for people to soak their feet which was a blessing on an otherwise pretty grey and miserable day in NZ. After the weather forced us to ditch our plans to go for a walk in the woods we decided to plan our next stop on the tour of the north island having been rather underwhelmed by Rotorua.
Next stop was therefore to pass through Taupo. We had hoped we could stay there to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which sounded like a beautiful tramp (as trekking is known in NZ) but unfortunately it was to be prohibitively expensive as there is still snow on the pass so guides and crampons are needed (or so we were told anyway). Instead we set ourselves up in yet another fantastic DOC campsite this time in the National Park just by a town (imaginatively?) called National Park.
On again the next day to Wanganui. This was a strange little town with not much to offer the tourists other then some waterfalls, but it was also a very nice little town and we liked the place for its atmosphere and welcoming feeling. We stayed in a campsite largely set up for hosting rugby teams (not the international ones I think!) but as has often been the case we found ourselves to be the only tent on the site - although there were quite a few more permanent looking motorhomes and caravans. This site was comparative luxury with hot showers, a kitchen and laundry so we settled for a few days to recharge the batteries (literally as well as figuratively).
Finally we made it to Wellington and after yet another beautiful campsite in another amazing National Park (Rimutaka Forest Park), this time with a hedgehog, friendly duck and other birds for company (as well as some not so friendly Germans), we went into town to meet a friend of Seth's, Andy and his family. They gave us a wonderful tour of Wellington on an apparently rare beautiful sunny day. We drove along the most amazing coastal road and had a picnic on the beach complete with sparkling wine and much missed hummus and blue cheese (not together - that would be very odd). It was wonderful to be spoilt in this way and shown all the amazing surrounding parts of Wellington that we would have undoubtedly have missed ig it hadn't been for Andy and Michelle.
Finally though it was time to make an early start to catch the ferry across to the South Island...